IRVINGTON, NJ (updated Saturday June 17, 11:05 a.m.) – In his first year as head coach last fall, Ashley Pierre felt blessed to guide an Irvington High School varsity football team that was successful, on and off the field.
On the field, the Blue Knights won their first eight games of the season and finished with an impressive 8-2 record.
The team featured several outstanding seniors. Six of those seniors were honored during a special assembly at the IHS auditorium on Friday, June 16 as they formally announced their college choices.
The seniors who will be continuing their football careers on the collegiate level are Karon Gray, James Ely, Alnazir Blackman, Justin Torain, Nelson Gedeon, and Jyvon Brown.
In front of dozens of family members and friends, the seniors sat at tables adorned by Blue Knight tablecloth signs while wearing the caps of their colleges.
Pierre addressed the audience, introducing the players, one by one, and expressing his comments for each of them.
Gray, a wide receiver, will be heading to Garden City Community College in Kansas, which won the national championship on the junior college level last year. Gray missed the first four games of last season, but made an impact once he rejoined the team, Pierre told the audience.
Ely, also a wide receiver, made the most of his playing time while Gray was sidelined. “He had an opportunity to show his talents,” Pierre said. Ely, who also excelled for the IHS track and field team, will be playing football at Western New England, a Division III team located in Springfield, Mass.
Blackman, a running back, will continue his football career at FDU-Florham Park and has expressed an interest in studying medicine, Pierre told the audience. Blackman played in the 24th annual Robeson High School All-Star Football Game at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange the previous night, June 15.
Torain, a defensive lineman, transferred to IHS from Dayton Regional HS in Springfield and had a great first season for the Blue Knights last fall, Pierre said. Torrain will play at Cincinnati Christian University, which started its football program in 2015.
Gedeon, a defensive end/linebacker, will be playing at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pa., a Division II program.
Brown was one of the top quarterbacks in the area for the past four years. Of the six seniors, Brown is the lone Division 1 player who will continue his career at the University of Massacusetts, which competes on Football Championship Series level.
IHS assistant coach Nhemie Theodore, who played for the Blue Knights and was a standout defensive lineman, also addressed the audience and talked about how each of the players developed into standouts.
Video highlights of some of the players were displayed during the assembly.
After the players posed for pictures with their families, friends and coaches, they spoke about their time at Irvington, their colleges and their goals for the future.
Torain plans to study computer science at Cincinnati Christian. Though he played just one year at Irvington, he said it was one of the best experiences of his life. He especially credited Pierre and the coaching staff for their guidance.
Gray is looking forward to playing for the defending national championship team at Garden City CC. He hopes to eventually gain a Division 1 scholarship and play in the NFL.
Ely was grateful for all the support he received and mentioned how he worked hard while getting the opportunity to play. He plans to study sports management at Western New England.
Gedeon talked about how he was enamored with the atmosphere at Seton Hill, especially with the family-like environment fostered by Seton Hill’s coaches. He also said he will come back to Irvington to show his support for the Blue Knights.
Brown, who attends Newark Tech, said playing for the Blue Knights for the past four years was memorable, especially this past season with a senior-laden team.
“I had a great time with this team,” said Brown, who will play wide receiver at UMass. “Playing with my friends, that just made things even better. I know everybody’s strengths, they know my strengths, and we just (motivated) each other.”
Brown also mentioned how he felt comfortable at UMass. His goal is to be a freshman starter and to help them win a championship.
Brown has one more game remaining in his high school career. He will participate in the 39th annual Phil Simms New Jersey North-South High School All-Star Football Classic on Monday night, June 26, at Kean University. He and Paramus Catholic’s Andrew Brito will be the quarterbacks for the North squad.
“That’s going to be mad fun,” said Brown about playing in the North-South Classic.
And what does he hope to do in the game?
“I’m coming out of that game as the MVP,” he said.
Pierre, indeed, is proud of those six seniors who have become inspirational for the younger kids in Irvington.
“They started off my career here at Irvington as a head coach. They are doing the right things on the field and off the field. They are setting an example for the young ones that are coming up and the program is getting bigger and bigger because of these guys here. They are great individuals. They are going to be successful when they leave. They are model citizens here in Irvington.”